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Blog: Ethiopia

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August 10, 2021

HRP Welcomes New Associate Director

Posted by Gerald Neuman

Today I have the honor of announcing an exciting new appointment at the Human Rights Program. Dr. Abadir M. Ibrahim has joined our team as the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program. Abadir will bring leadership and experience to the work of the HRP. He will also act as an important liaison between the HRP and other parts of the Law School and the University.

Abadir joins the Human Rights Program from the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council of Ethiopia, where he was the Head of the Secretariat. The Advisory Council is an independent statutory body mandated with advising and providing technical support to the Ethiopian government in the latter’s endeavors to conduct pro-democracy and pro-rights justice sector reforms. In his role as Head of the Secretariat, Abadir oversaw the planning and implementation of the Advisory Council’s mandate. He also provided subject area expertise and participated in law-making processes on topics such as civil society, anti-terrorism, transitional justice, and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) legislation.

Previously, Abadir worked in different roles within the human rights field including as an advocate, as an educator, and a researcher. Abadir’s legal work has focused on African countries, and especially his home country of Ethiopia, and engaged with the African system of human rights. His broader research interests encompass the intersections between global human rights normative structures and non-western cultural/religious institutions and traditions with a special emphasis on normative ethics and religion. He earned his J.S.D. from the Intercultural Human Rights Program at St. Thomas University, School of Law. His dissertation, which was a comparative-historical study of transitions towards democracy, was published under the title of The Role of Civil Society in Africa’s Quest for Democratization.

At the HRP, Abadir will play a substantive and managerial role in innovating and implementing academic activities, including the speaker series, conferences, and the Academic Program’s various fellowships.

We welcome him warmly and look forward to your meeting him soon.

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September 15, 2014

Student Perspective: Protecting Freedom of Expression, in Ethiopia and Beyond

Posted by Lindsay Church, JD '16

In July 2012, Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2011, Reeyot Alemu was arrested and convicted to 14 years of imprisonment, reduced to five on appeal.

Their crimes? Practicing journalism in Ethiopia.

A woman's face in red appears above barbed wire. Text reads, "Free Journalist Reeyot Alemu."

Nega and Alemu are award-winning journalists who shared the prestigious Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Award in 2012. For Nega, whose first child was born while he and his wife were in custody for treason , the arrest came days after publishing a column that criticized the Ethiopian government’s detainment of journalists as suspected terrorists. For Alemu, a former high school English teacher, the arrest came days after she critiqued the ruling political party in an independent newspaper later shut down by the government.

The basis for the charges against these journalists is Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which contains overly vague provisions that have been used by the government to silence its critics. Since the Proclamation was adopted, more than 30 journalists have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of working on behalf of Nega and Alemu as a fellow with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). The small London-based non-profit works directly with journalists and bloggers who have been prosecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression. With the help of partner organizations, MLDI’s staff are currently working on 107 cases in 41 countries; the organization’s success rate in receiving favorable decisions hovers around 70 percent.

Image shows a man's face wearing a cap looking out into the distance. Text indicates, "Freedom has no religion. Freedom favours no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia. Eskinder Nega: Journalist, Imprisoned by the Authorities."
Courtesy: Amnesty International

Because I studied journalism before coming to law school, I know the range of challenges American journalists face, from accessing information to protecting sources to the threat of civil liability. Still, it was always clear to me that the First Amendment by and large provides a greater amount of protection to journalists than any other national legal system. As my work at MLDI made clear this summer, freedom of expression is severely restricted in other countries—by censorship, regulations, state-operated monopolies, criminal liability, and physical threat, among others.

For example, on my very first day, I worked on a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning the case of Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger who was wrongfully prosecuted on trumped up charges of tax evasion. Throughout my internship, I also researched case law from regional courts on freedom of expression, helped with an amicus curiae submission before the High Court of South Africa in a case about criminal defamation, and worked on a case in defense of a blogger in Singapore who is being sued by Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister.

When Nani Jansen, MLDI’s legal director, filed a submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Nega and Alemu, I had the opportunity to do preparatory work for the submission. I also helped in the filing of submissions to international and regional courts on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

At this point, their chances for release are still unknown, but the situation remains dire. In a New York Times Op-Ed, “Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag,” Nega wrote about gruesome prison conditions, including three toilets for about 1,000 prisoners. Alemu’s health continues to deteriorate: After receiving an operation to remove a lump in her breast—without the use of anesthesia—she was immediately sent back to the prison without proper recovery time, and she has since been denied further treatment.

Continue Reading…

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